Welcome to the Dollhouse: Robyn Lucas
No issue books #MSWL.
Raise your hand if you've felt personally victimized by this line.
While 2020 and the start of 2021 have left many wanting joyous escapism, many writers are left wondering exactly what that means for their novels. Rom-coms only? Characters who are entirely happy with their life choices and decisions? Leave it to Beaver family structures? Absolutely no grief, trauma, bad breakups, or the other parts of life that aren't so nice?
Sometimes, these questions can make you feel like you have to write in a box. A box that forces you to forget the human experience can't always be pre-packaged into a nicely wrapped gift. And then you're left with a pretty box that might catch someone's eye, but you know that once they open it, they'll find it empty, missing all the parts that you wanted to put inside.
So what do you do from there? Make more of these hollow boxes? Or do you rethink the box and put in the nuances: the parts that are great, the parts that are no-so-great, and whatever else falls in between?
Well, as Maya Angelou said: "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."
Read on to learn about author Robyn Lucas's journey to tell her story.
1. Welp, the first question for these sort of things usually is the ‘how did you get your agent’ question, but your debut novel, Paper Doll Lina, comes out this September! So, please tell us all about your publication journey--from the bud of an idea until now.
My path to publication was more of a 8-lane interstate with many off and on ramps that took years to finally get to this point. I wish this didn’t sound so cliche, but the first scene in PAPER DOLL LINA came to me in a dream. I ended up purging the book over the next 9 weeks and took another six months or so to revise. I participated in the spring 2018 #DVPIT where Kat Kerr expressed interest. She ended up asking me for a revise and resubmit. Unfortunately, my life sort of imploded shortly after and I was unable to work on my book for over a year.
Eventually, I ended up revising my novel and reached back out to Kat, who’d changed agencies by then and she gracefully accepted my revised manuscript. I received several offers of representation and by November 2019, signed with Kat. We went through another 2 or 3 rounds of edits and sold my novel, plus another one, at auction in July 2020. My novel, PAPER DOLL LINA, debuts September 1, 2021.
2. Can you tell us more about your upcoming novel: Paper Doll Lina? What is it like to write Black characters in a novel dealing with domestic abuse--a topic that is often treated as taboo in the Black community although Black women experience abuse at a higher rate than their peers.
I wrote Paper Doll Lina from a very personal viewpoint, being that of my own abusive 19-year marriage. Abuse, in both the Christian and African-American communities and especially at their intersection, is taboo. It exists in silence and is hushed and rationalized instead of being addressed as something that is unacceptable. Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, threats, emotional abuse, and any other behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control.
45% of Black women and 40% of Black men have experienced some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetimes, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Writing a character like Lina was terrifying. Lina is a Black suburban housewife living a seemingly incredible and Pinterest-perfect life. She’s vulnerable to a fault and has a quiet strength. Unfortunately, during my querying process, I had an agent who didn’t feel like my book would be successful with how Lina read— she either needed to be white or needed to speak to the larger aspect of racial politics, instead of being a woman in an abusive marriage, who happens to be Black.
3. Your novel also takes place in suburbia. Oftentimes, domestic abuse storylines are attached to settings that depict desperation and poverty. Was your setting an intentional choice? If so, what message do you hope this sends about where abuse can take place?
As a former suburban housewife, the stories I could tell you would blow your mind. From the PTA moms who snort cocaine in the bathrooms at gymnastics meets to the intimate partner abuse that rages through suburbia that is oftentimes unreported and unaccounted for in the various statistics. Domestic violence affects every race, every religion, every income bracket, every education level.
I purposefully chose to center suburbia for two reasons: 1. To show a diverse view of what we typically see when reading about the suburbs, and 2. Because abuse doesn’t discriminate. It happens everywhere.
4. Your book box for Paper Doll Lina has received much praise for its contents. With your background in marketing, did you give any input to your publisher for this box? And would you share the role of a book box in terms of marketing for a book?
Because domestic violence is such a central theme of my novel, I wanted to use my book cover reveal to raise awareness. In doing so, I thought a book box and subsequent fundraiser would be best. My publisher, Lake Union, fully supported my efforts and I’m so grateful and proud to have donated $1000 to Free From.org, a financial literacy and empowerment organization for survivors.
5. What advice would you give to writers balancing motherhood and a writing career? What happens when it feels like you must choose between the two?
There’s balance? Where does this magical land exist? I always deal with mom guilt— guilt of not being able to be fully present when I’m in the middle of a novel or revisions. My characters and plot are with me at the dinner table, at karate, at class visits, etc.
One thing I’ve learned to do is take a week or two off at every milestone during writing. First draft= week off. Revisions complete= week off. The week can be spent catching up on house stuff or what I love is to do a staycation. After selling my book, I took the kids to a farm and we relaxed and reconnected for an entire week. It’s something they’ve come to look forward to, plus it teaches them to celebrate their milestones.
6. Do you know when you’re at risk of burnout? What’s your form of self-care?
As a recovering workaholic, I try to balance my day/week with both work and downtime. I have a hard stop at night which allows me to spend family time, catch up with friends, take a long bath, etc. I truly believe the best way to avoid burnout is creating and sticking to a time budget— a schedule that you use like money. If you think of your time like a paycheck, you spend it wiser.
My favorite form of self-care is sleep. I can never get enough, plus I have the best bed ever.
Ok, now it’s time for the ‘fun’ questions!
7. Mattel has partnered with your publisher to create a Barbie line of Linas. You have been asked to pick three outfits that will come with the doll. You decide upon….
First, props for Mattel for tackling the subject of domestic violence. But seriously, it is a subject that needs to be taught to school kids— the concept of acceptable relationships.
For the fun part, I’d decide to dress Lina in some fun colors and cute dresses. (Who doesn’t love to play Barbies?)
8. Unpopular book or writing opinion?
Unpopular book: Twilight (don’t judge me)
Writing opinion: the way literature is taught in school makes writing unaccessible and hinders future writers.
9. The secret to a relaxing bath is…
Epsom salt, scalding water (changed/refreshed every 15 mins), a good audiobook or show playing nearby, and giving yourself permission to relax.
“I once heard someone say a book is either a window or a mirror— a
window to look out and escape reality; a mirror for reflection. My hope is
PAPER DOLL LINA will be both a window for entertainment, but also a
mirror in which readers can identify certain behaviors within their own
relationships and either address them or seek help.”
Bio: After finding her way to Atlanta, GA by way of Hawaii, USVI, Miami,
and South Carolina, Robyn Lucas developed a successful career in
communications and marketing. Her background came in handy
when her teenagers developed an award-winning mental health app
which boasts over 100,000 downloads.
When Robyn is not writing, she enjoys spending time with her teens,
marathoning (watching TV, not running), reading, and snuggling with
her dog, Trooper.
Book order link: https://bookshop.org/books/paper-doll-lina/9781542030151
Goodreads link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56392115-paper-doll-lina
Website link: www.RobynLucas.com
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